Libertarians Support School Choice

(By Kenn Gividen, 2004 Libertarian Party of Indiana Gubernatorial Candidate)

When a horde of unionists converged on the Indiana state capital to voice their objection to education reform and school choice, many Hoosiers were caught off guard. A few were even shocked. These were, after all, educators carrying picket signs denouncing legislation that promises to shift the Hoosier state’s educational system into high gear.

What’s irking the unionists is state legislation that would allow Indiana’s parents to use vouchers to fund private (read, non-union) education.

Libertarians were not surprised. The voices of those unionists clamoring against school choice are, at the core, motivated by greed that is enforced by a government monopoly. We’ve known it all along. And, again, we told you so.

Nearly seven years ago I took center position in a debate between now-governor Mitch Daniels on my right and then-governor Joe Kernan (appropriately) at my left. While my opponents gently tiptoed through the tulips of political correctness I had the audacity to tell the world via national television that teachers unions were inherently evil. They were driven, not be an altruistic passion for educating our children, but by a sycophantic urge to protect their professional turf.

Leading the charge

While Libertarians may have lit the lamp that illuminated the dark side of teachers unions, we are pleased that some Republicans have, at last, seen the light. More accurately I should say the GOP is finally grasping the advantages of school choice. Granted, their legislation is far removed from the ideal of total school privatization, but the road they trod is the path blazed by Libertarians. It leads in the right direction.

While credit is due, it is not expected. After all it was a Libertarian endeavor that launched the massive Tea Party movement. And those of you had presence of mind to record the 2004 gubernatorial debates can relive the spark that was lit by this Libertarian and his compatriots that ignited the rebellion against oppressive property taxes. Stated colloquially, we were anti-property tax when anti-property tax wasn’t cool.

On July 4, 2007, Andrew Horning led the first “tea party” with 500 other Hoosiers on the lawn of the governor’s mansion declaring an end to the property tax system. (Ultimately, the Governor and the Legislature have made moves to enshrine property taxes in to the Constitution.)

Wising up

And it’s not just the Republicans who are catching fire. The media is also illuminating.

Radio talkster Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is one example. Affectionately known to his fan base as “Abdul,” the master of sardonicism has managed to ply his gift for playful sarcasm to wedge a thorn in the sole of unionists. Those of us who frequent Abdul’s blog,, mused at his observation:

“If these folks are so smart and know what works, because according to them no one else does, then the unions should be willing to put its money where its mouth is and start a school, owned and operated by teachers.”

Abdul also noted that it cost about $250,000 to launch a charter school. The teachers union invested more than four times that amount – over $1,000,000 – to help pro-union Democrats retain control of the Indiana House of Representatives. They lost.

His fan base echoes Abdul’s sentiments, though perhaps with less flare. One reader recalled the Michigan businessman who offered $200 million to fund Detroit’s charter school system in 2003. The unionists objected. They walked off their school jobs to rally by the thousands at that state’s capital. The businessman was forced to withdraw the offer. But the story doesn’t end there. More recently reports have surfaced that Detroit’s government schools are faking it. Failing students are routinely given C grades. They appear to be outperforming charter schools. In reality, they are out-cheating charter schools. [1]

The unionist rally at Indiana’s state house is déjà vu; a replaying of the Detroit episode. The outcome will be the same. Union members will have job security and the Hoosier state’s school system will remain entrenched in a failed government monopoly. That presumes, of course, that the unions get their evil way.

Advancing black students

There are also notations that charter schools are delivering the educational goods with black students. While unionists accuse charter schools as the embodiment of racial segregation, respected Harvard economist Roland Fryer sees no problem. He cites statistics that prove high-performing black students suffer from discrimination from other black students in integrated government schools. Charter schools with black student bodies are the exception. High-performing black students face virtually no digression of popularity among their peers. Fryer, by the way, is black. [2]

Urban Prep Academy for Young Men in Chicago’s crime-ridden Englewood district is an example of a successful black charter school. Allowing only black males to attend, the school boasted that 100 percent of its first senior class had been accepted to four-year colleges. If you had a choice, would you prefer your son attend the Urban Prep Academy? Or its crime ridden public-school competitor? Teachers unions say there should be no choice. [3]

Helping to advance the cause excelled education is The Foundation for Educational Choice. Their website,, offers a petition that supports the legislation and an article lauding Gov. Daniels for endorsing it. [4]

Not all are bad apples

Painting teachers unions with a broad brush may seem a bit unfair. After all, there is a vast difference between teachers and the unions that portend to represent them. Not all union members are enthralled with the union directions.

Furthermore, to their credit, the unionists have some valid complaints. The silly notion that government oversight can enforce teacher quality by attaching student outcome with teacher wages in an invitation to abject cronyism. Teachers will gravitate toward schools where student performance is enhanced by parental involvement and economic privilege. Schools populated by underprivileged students will become a dearth of quality educators. This impending scenario will also be an invitation to more government tweaking; an effort to balance classrooms. Expect someone to suggest more school bussing.

Even so the unions are driven by greed and self-interest more than quality education. That observation is bound to evoke charges of anti-unionism or, if I may coin a term, unionphobia.

A Libertarian by any other name

The truth of the matter is: The truth is what matters. Name-calling, while always annoying and often hurtful, is the heat that comes with the kitchen of transparent idealism. Libertarians have learned to tell the truth and suffer the unpleasant consequences.

Case in point: I’ve been accused of homophobia by those on the left while those on the right are certain I’m satiated with homophilia. There are those who call me “racist” why their counterparts denounce me as “race traitor.” It is no surprise, then, that Libertarians are occasionally accused of being anti-union (or unionphobic). Most are not.

When I was discussing the detestable actions of Indiana’s teachers unions on a Louisville talk show, one caller bluntly asked why I was “anti-union.” The truth of the matter is I am not anti-union. I know of no Libertarians who are anti-union. If I were a teacher I would belong to the union and be proud of it. What I would not do, however, is sell my unionist soul to the devils of government domination. I would welcome the challenge of competition. Union greed, not unions per se, is the problem.

So call us what you will – homophobes or homophiliacs, racists or race traitors; unionists or union busters. The truth is we are none of those. We simply adhere to a core principle that government is too big, too invasive and too inefficient. And when the need arises to train the spotlight on other government excesses, we will tell you so.

[1] Detroit Free Press, Feb. 10, 2011;
[2] New York Daily News, Aug. 24, 2010;
[3] Chicago Tribune, March 5, 2010;

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